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B. Roberts, W. Owen

Naval Postgraduate School (UNITED STATES)
This paper is a report of lessons learned in the process of implementing a newly initiated project to enhance student engagement in a systems engineering program that is delivered primarily by web-conferencing (ELLUMINATE). This effort employed a redesign of a traditional orientation, typically delivered to focus on program description, academic requirements, and introduction of key stakeholders and their roles in support of distance education. A second phase of the orientation, which we termed “graduate success seminar” (GSS) was developed to teach fundamental skills associated with success in higher education, with an emphasis on improving learning strategies and self-management skills to help students better organize, prepare, and perform effectively in a graduate program. The second phase was also designed to help students understand their own cognitive processes, and what strategies work best for them in improving learning. Introducing the second phase of the orientation also gave us, as faculty and program managers, time and opportunity to make observations that were previously unanticipated. We observed factors that affected the cohesiveness of a particular cohort (class) of students, the pivotal role of the cohort’s sponsor, and resulting engagement of the students. Initially, we measured engagement in terms of response to homework completion and attendance at the GSS. We are also looking at some early indicators of academic performance. While providing our students with information on learning styles, problem solving, and critical thinking, we discovered that many of our faculty, who would eventually teach courses to students, should be equally versed in the advantages of having and sharing this kind of information with the students. Otherwise, this information would only serve a “defensive” role for students who encounter differences between themselves and faculty, especially when learning styles are considered. Overall, the insight and benefits derived from our orientation redesign has been manifold. Not only have the students benefited, but we as faculty and program managers have discovered new avenues to pursue in fine-tuning our distance education programs.